Consider the Oyster, by Blanche Brown. Tucson: New Michigan Press, 2020. Print. US$9. 45 Pages. ISBN 978-1-934832-74-5 (8×8″)
What I like about the text most, and I saved the winner to read last, is that it gave my mind so much to do. It’s one long poem, but it’s also like shucking 21 oysters. After starting on a slant, as one might slant the blade of an oyster knife along the shell edge to pry for the meat, the book plates up a pattern.
There are three positions or voices that repeat. A shell-ish rectangular formal statement top left (“O mineral merroir,” “O fondle frond,” “O shell bleached white”), a square little exhortation at the bottom (…consider the oyster…), and a slanting form on the right that includes the speaker’s personal connection to the bivalve (“the dive bars / daddy took me to were / often covered in dollar bills,” or when the oyster super fan gets a tattoo) that turn the reader, pages straining at the hinge, to the next triptych.
Maybe the three forms on each page are like Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, with the white space between them the oyster’s estuaries. Maybe, as I squint, they remind me of German constructivist compositions, bright windows Le Corbusier might impress into a wall. Maybe the composition is more modern. Kenneth Noland? In any case, the use of space and form as a design element is really satisfying. It’s less repetitive than this description might make it seem. The stanza and line lengths ebb and flow into shapes as unique as oysters themselves. It’s a neat scheme.
The poem does a wonderful job implicating all of us in the failures of environmental management. Oh, that Army Corps of Engineers has scrapped together a few doozies when it comes to dams. Deepwater Horizon is touched upon, as are cultivators of the oyster from Roman antiquity to the hourly wage shuckers of today.
I love poetry, structured and unstructured, formal and light, and this treatment of a single subject in a long, elegiac poem that touches on history, myth, philosophy, and personal growth and perception was an aesthetic journey.
I went to my kitchen drawer to make sure my oyster knife was still at hand. I’m ready for September. I was thinking this book might be a considerate hostess or father’s day gift along with a bottle of white wine or some good ale, and of course the promise or present of fresh oysters.
★★★★★ = Fully recommend that others buy it and read it. Can be purchased directly from the publisher
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